Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Synopsis as found on Goodreads: On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…
What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?
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You go into this book expecting a deep dark contemporary, and while reading the first chapter, you realize that yes, it’s deep. And it’s dark. And you think it’s a contemporary, but you’re certain there’s something more to it. I went into this without reading the synopsis. I’m guilty for picking this up mainly because the cover is stunning, so imagine my surprise when I find that it’s a book set mostly in a juvenile correctional facility. And that was a good surprise, because it ended up being a mix of We Were Liars, Black Swan and Orange is the New Black, and I love all those things dearly.
Suma has achieved the unthinkable: a psychological mystery that is slow-burning but fast-paced at the same time. How did she manage to do that?! When you set a novel in a relatively unique setting, it’s bound to have similarities with other famous things set in similar settings, but I appreciate that Suma took this risk. While there were obviously many similarities with Orange is the New Black, Suma made the story her own.
Now here’s the thing: this is not an easy book to read. I’m not saying that in an “it’s emotionally scarring” way, but instead in a “whoa, I need to slow the fuck down because what is going on?” way. Sometimes, confusing books don’t work, but again, Suma makes it work. The confusion is delightful. You try to put together pieces of an incredibly obscure puzzle. You spend so much time trying to dissect the dialogue and the story that you can’t help but be fully invested. Not only does this have multiple perspectives, it also jumps back and forth in time a lot, and it almost never specifies that it’s doing that. Suma trusts her readers’ intelligence, and when the reader finally gets it, it’s a wonderful experience.
This novel is creepy. It’s about young girls who have committed some horrible crimes, and others who might not have but are suffering anyways. It’s a novel about the potential brutality of a teenage girl. About jealousy, cruelty, betrayal and revenge. It’s a loaded piece, and Suma makes it all work.
The only negative I have to say about the plot has to do with the ending. I thought the ending was too rushed- something major happens, and it wasn’t fleshed out properly for it to be believable. Had it been a different ending, this book would’ve received a higher rating.
While reading this, I didn’t have too many problems with characterization. But now that it’s been a couple of weeks since I turned the last page, I realize that the characters haven’t stuck with me. I don’t feel like I know them as well as I should. I was invested in their storylines while I was living in them, but I don’t care much about them to want to read more. The only character that was interesting to me was Amber, because I never knew exactly what to think of her. But even though she was interesting, she still didn’t feel like a person. She felt more like a cardboard plot point.
I was struck speechless while reading Suma’s writing. I usually cannot stand flowery, purple prose, but Suma makes it work, yet again. Her writing is lyrical and poetic, but it’s not overbearing. She doesn’t slap you with unnecessarily complicated metaphors, or the quirks in her words- she writes that way because it comes naturally to her, and that’s so obvious while reading her work. Often, writers with such flowery language seem to be trying too hard, but not Suma. I’d love to see what else she has in store!